Mahlon Glen Hamel
1892 - 1976
Mahlon (M.G.) Hamel was a talented brass player who played trumpet, cornet, and trombone. A pioneering band director in Wisconsin public high schools, he also conducted bands in two Seventh-day Adventist academies. He founded and directed the Hamel Tri-City Band in Dorchester, Wisconsin. In later years he started Hamel Music Company, which provided instruments at discounted prices for band directors in Seventh-day Adventist and public schools.
Hamel was born in North Loop, Nebraska, the fifth of eleven children of Lewis and Alice Cornell Hamel, and raised in Wisconsin. Although listed in the 1920 census as a wheat farmer in North Dakota, immediately following the census, he returned with his family to Wisconsin, where he barbered for a short while before beginning to teach music in school programs in the area. By the time of the 1930 census he was listed as a band instructor. He wrote about this time in his life in an autobiography:
I started learning the barber trade in 1919, and continued with that as a sideline but never gave up music. I was married to Irene in 1916. I bought a barbershop in Unity, Wisconsin and was there not quite a year, and then moved to North Dakota where we tried our hand at farming for three years. And incidentally, while I was farming there, I had to make the money to live on by playing in an orchestra [dance band].
Earlier in his life, Hamel had played cornet in the Ringling Brothers Circus band before marrying Irene Flentie and later becoming a Seventh-day Adventist. Their son, Lyle, would later relate how his parents met and became members of the church:
They met when my father was living in Wisconsin and she was working as a nurse at the Northland mental hospital in Northern Wisconsin. After they married, they farmed in North Dakota, where they had these terrible winters. Somebody gave them a book, which they read during one of those winters.
They learned about the Sabbath and other beliefs of the Adventist church and when they returned to Wisconsin, they moved near his brother, Courtland, who was a member of the church. They were baptized shortly after that. She had come from a Lutheran family, which shunned her for years after she joined the church. It wasn't until many years later that reconciliation occurred. This was very difficult for my mother.
M.G. took additional music study at the University of Wisconsin and VanderCook College of Music. He and Irene, who played accordion and enjoyed playing the foot-pumped reed organ in their home, raised six children, the oldest, Wesley, being a child from her first marriage. All of them were given music instruction from an early age and three of them - Louis, Paul, and Lyle - would enjoy careers in music.
M.G. assisted in the music program at Bethel Academy in Arpin, Wisconsin, which was later moved to Columbus and renamed Wisconsin Academy, by directing the band once a week on Sundays to give his children, who were attending there, the experience of playing in a band. Lyle recently recalled his start in playing in that group at Bethel:
I was in fourth grade at Bethel Academy when Dad taught me how to play an instrument called a mellophone, which played mostly off-beats against the tuba's beats. Although shaped like a French horn, it was much easier to play. From that beginning, I progressed to other instruments in the next eight years at Bethel, including the clarinet and the tuba. Many of those band students at Bethel won first places in music competitions during those years.
After he retired from teaching music in public school, he briefly directed the band at Mount Vernon Academy in Ohio.
Louis, the oldest son and a trombonist, received a undergraduate degree in music from the University of Wisconsin, and a master's degree from VanderCook College of Music. He enjoyed a career as a successful high school band director in Wisconsin high schools. Paul and Lyle became band directors in Adventist higher education, with Lyle directing the band at Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University, for five years, from 1959 to 1964, and Paul directing the band at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, for nineteen years, from 1948 to 1967. Another son, Neal, a gifted clarinetist who played first chair in John Hafner's band at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, became a physician.
Both Lyle and Paul were innovators and administrators in music and education. Lyle, who also had extensive experience as a band director in Adventist academies and grade schools, started the first SDA music festival for junior academies while teaching in Florida at Forest Lake Academy. For several years he served in a dual role as principal and band director in academies and near the end of his involvement as a music teacher assisted in the Pacific Union College music program. He ended his career serving as a principal, following a hearing loss.
During Paul's years at EMC and AU, he became chair of the music program, assisted in university administration, and was a major force as the school made the transition from a small regional college to the primary university for the world church. He completed his career at AU, retiring in 1981. He received numerous awards for his contributions to the school, and the music building was named for him in 1995.
When M.G. retired from running Hamel Music Company, Paul and his wife, Beatrice, continued the music business until it was sold to Sandra Camp in 1988. In retirement M.G. began making batons with fiberglass wands affixed to handles he turned by hand on a small lathe and then stamped with the Hamel name. These became very popular and, now made by another firm, can be found in many music stores nationwide.
M.G. was residing in Arpin, Wisconsin, at the time of death in 1976, at age 84.
Sources: Conversations/Interviews/email exchanges with Lyle and Paul Hamel, March/April 2010; Strike Up the Band, unpublished autobiography, Lyle Hamel; 1900, 1920, 1930 U.S. Census Records; World War I Registration Card.